It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to find out that Robert Woods is not happy. After Matt Barkley airmailed a pass to him in the third quarter against Arizona State on Saturday, Woods simply stared politely back at him and walked quietly back to the huddle. He doesn’t have to say it. It’s clear what he’s thinking.
In the last three games, Woods has totaled just 161 receiving yards, oddly the same amount that all-world receiver and Heisman Trophy candidate Marqise Lee had against Arizona State. While Lee has caught 38 balls in three weeks, Woods has less than half that amount, with season bottoming out on Saturday with a two catch, negative three yard performance.
Why? Well, there’s multitude of reasons. Woods is not the Trojans go-to receiver on deep routes, Barkley has an overwhelming knack to overthrow a significant number of balls thrown in his direction, and Lee’s prominence, coupled with Nelson Agholor’s increased role, has pushed Woods to what seems like a third option for the Trojans.
Woods has just 21 catches in the second half of games this season, and when USC is tied or trailing, Lee immediately becomes the first option, as seen against the first half against Arizona and for much of the Oregon game. It’s not just teams deciding to take Woods out of games, the Trojans just simply aren’t utilizing him as much as before.
Yet, Woods is the constant professional. He’s a team player. For a position that’s produced a plethora of me-first athletes, USC’s own Keyshawn Johnson included, it’s almost admiring that Woods hasn’t resorted to immaturity.
That doesn’t mean that’s not upset or has subtly displayed his dismay, however. On Saturday night, he tweeted about a twitter handle aimed at campaigning for more balls thrown to Woods. Not exactly a Keyshawn move, but it’s something.
For a receiver with more records at USC than Usian Bolt, and assuming he declares for the NFL Draft after the season, it’s not looking to be quite the Hollywood ending that many envisioned when Barkley announced he was returning for a title-run with Woods and T.J. McDonald.
And to be fair, there have been plenty of expectations levied on Woods in his time thus far at USC. His twitter handle includes the word Heisman, he was an member of the ‘unfinished business’ movement, a preseason Biletnikoff Award favorite, a player targeted to break records by Lane Kiffin and a receiver who has constantly been told how terrific of a route runner he is.
And all of that has plenty of validity. And by all accounts, Woods will go down as one of the greatest receivers to ever play in the Pac-12 Conference, much less USC.
So it’s baffling to see Woods’s stock within the USC offense decline with each week, going from a record 111 catches as a sophomore to just five targets in a game in which his team had to win to preserve a shot at the Rose Bowl.
His talent hasn’t changed, his abilities hasn’t changed, but his luck has had a brutal turn for the south and it could lead to a turn in confidence. Perhaps if Barkley and Woods had better communication and chemistry, they would connect more. Barkley appears to give Marqise Lee a chance with each pass, but can’t seem hit Woods in the numbers with regularity.
Chemistry, coincidence or luck, something’s got to change before Woods’s career at USC ends on a lower note than expected. He’s been too important to the Trojans’ grind through sanctions to have it end it such a way.